Five Strategies for Getting the Biggest Payoff with Today’s Low-Cost HR Apps

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

When he coined this famous saying, Albert Einstein probably wasn’t thinking about your retail business and your ever-growing HR responsibilities. But here’s the thing: If you’re sticking to the same old “pen and paper” methods to handle everyday HR tasks — and wondering why you can’t get control of your to-do list — you may be experiencing workplace insanity.

The remedy? For more and more businesses in the apparel industry, online HR software is the answer. Unlike a complicated and often unwieldy Human Resources Information System (HRIS), individual HR apps offer a fast, flexible and affordable approach to your most pressing HR responsibilities. You can stop the insanity – and achieve some positive, new results.

Perhaps you’re interested in making the shift to HR apps, but you don’t know where to start. I understand! This is new territory for you, and you don’t want to make a mistake. Here are some important considerations to guide you:

1) Choose narrowly focused apps to solve specific pain points
To avoid getting overwhelmed, take a minute to identify your biggest frustrations. If you have several, you’ll want to prioritize them so you can tackle the top one or two. In working with countless small businesses over the years, I hear about these pain points most often:

  • The administrative runaround with multiple employee files

  • Completing mandatory new hire paperwork

  • Keeping track of who’s on the job, and who’s not

  • A time-consuming job application process

  • Uncertainty about how to handle disciplinary issues

  • Staying on top of all the time-off requests from employees

  • Setting up and communicating company policies

Good news! In the world of HR apps, there’s a narrowly focused app to ease each of these burdens:

  • An employee records apps to establish a single database of essential employee information

  • An I-9 and W-4 app to confidently fill out federally required new hire forms

  • An attendance calendar app to track employee attendance and see everything on one screen

  • A job application app to easily send and receive job applications online to and from candidates for open positions  

  • A progressive discipline app to document employee violations appropriately and legally

  • A time-off requests app to promptly approve employee time-off requests and process them properly

  • A company policies app to develop a comprehensive, attorney-approved employee handbook, or simple, one-off policies

The benefits to this focused approach are two-fold. By selecting single apps that address a specific HR issue, you won’t pay for more than you need, which saves you money. You also avoid a lengthy learning curve, which saves you time and, ultimately, money.

That being said, you may find yourself in a situation where you need more than one app for your various HR needs, which brings me to the next point.

2) Choose apps that play well together
Once you solve your first pain point with a low-cost app, you’ll most likely be interested in solving a second one, or maybe a third. For this reason, you want to choose apps that don’t have overlapping features or functionality. You don’t want to address the same things in two separate apps, which is counterproductive. Nor do you want to pay for the same functionality.

A lot of this comes down to the degree of interaction – or integration – when you’re using multiple apps. In general, you need to be aware of five degrees of integration:

  • 1st degree – No integration: Data is maintained separately, so if you make a change in one app (such as adding a new employee or updating an address), you must manually make the same change in the others. This is a lot of extra work – and undesirable.

  • 2nd degree – Import/export: Data is maintained separately, but it can be pulled from one app and uploaded to another. This is better than no integration, but it’s still a potentially time-consuming manual process.

  • 3rd degree – API integration: API stands for Application Program Interface, where data can be synchronized directly between apps. This means no downloading and/or uploading. If you can’t schedule automatic synchronization, however, you’ll still need to take the manual step of clicking a button.

  • 4th degree – Shared database: A single shared database is the best-case scenario for handling data across multiple apps. You only enter information once, and it’s available immediately across all the apps.

  • 5th degree – Shared interface: At this level, which may be necessary as your business grows, you choose only what you need and add as you go. Similar to an HRIS, you can log in, view and access all your apps from a unified dashboard. From an efficiency standpoint, this is the “holy grail” of integration.

3) Look for built-in compliance
Unless you’re 100 percent confident that your HR processes are compliant (is anyone?), reputable HR apps can create a valuable safety net. It pays to do your homework in this area and verify that the app provider has solid HR expertise – preferably an in-house legal staff that specializes in employment law. With the best HR apps, the legal staff will continually monitor federal, state and local regulations to ensure that all online processes meet the latest rules and regulations.

4) Leverage employee self-service
This is a feature that allows employees to log in to view and/or update certain personal information, as well as complete specific tasks on their own. Some examples:

  • Updating address or phone number

  • Checking how much time off they have available

  • Requesting time off

  • Viewing work schedules or shift assignments

  • Reading company policies

This is a big win because it lets you turn over tasks that would typically fall on you, your office manager or HR administrator to the employees themselves. An app that offers employee self-service may also provide a place to share company messages. For example, when an employee logs in to request time off, a message or screen could pop up with blackout dates or information on upcoming events.

5) Choose vendors with care
Like most things in our personal and professional lives, it’s buyer beware. Before you put a penny toward a new HR app, look for these vendor qualifications:

  • Financial stability – Has the company been around for more than a few years? Beware of startups that operate without a sound business model.

  • Multiple layers of data security – Data should be encrypted during transmission over the internet, as well as when it’s stored in a database. This is especially important when you’re dealing with sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers or financial data.

  • Business-friendly – Is the app designed for the true small business? Some vendors consider companies small if they have 500 employees, so chances are their apps will be overly complex for a 20-employee company.

  • Customer service – What level of service do they offer? Are there onboarding services to get you started? Can you contact a support team if you have an issue?

  • HR expertise – Do they understand labor laws and HR compliance? Again, an in-house team is ideal, due to the number of regulations that should be monitored constantly.

It may be time to move your HR tasks online

To succeed in any business or industry, it’s important to work smarter, not harder – which often means replacing tedious, time-consuming processes with new, more efficient electronic solutions.  This is certainly true with employee management and other HR responsibilities. The answer to your HR woes may be a simple, effective and legally approved HR app.


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